Donald Insall restores Grade I-listed medieval courtyard complex in Warwick

Located within the Warwick Conservation Area, the buildings of the Lord Leycester Hospital comprise some of the most significant existing European timber structures of their time, comprising three halls, a chapel dating originally from 1126 – rebuilt in the late 1380s and restored in 1860 by George Gilbert Scot – an inn with high-status early 17th-century accommodation, a Guild Hall (1450) and a cross-wing house.


Key areas of work on the lottery-funded project included the restoration of the mediaeval architecture’s fabric and the renewal of the almshouse comprising the veterans’ homes.

Significant improvements have been made to the interpretation of the building with dedicated new exhibition areas for temporary exhibits as well as an enlarged visitor attraction area, including a new reception, gift shop and a café located in the Great Hall. Staff accommodation has been relocated to the second floor, making the visitor-accessible area more generous.

Donald Insall Associates describes the conservation-work as pragmatic, rather than dogmatic, with each repair undertaken appropriate to its context.


Architect’s view

The Lord Leycester Hospital is a cluster of Grade I-listed medieval timber-framed buildings of international importance. The buildings have survived the reformation policies of Henry VIII and the Great Fire of Warwick and now represent one of the finest examples of medieval architecture in the UK.

The ambition of the project was to undertake conservation repairs, improve accessibility and comfort levels for visitors, and help reveal the site’s fascinating history through new interpretation. Working in such a historically significant environment presented technical challenges in achieving these aims.

The introduction of ramps and a platform lift ensures the public-facing areas are wheelchair accessible. Where possible, existing floor levels have been relaid to achieve level thresholds without having to introduce dedicated ramps. Lifting the floors in certain spaces has enabled the installation of underfloor heating, significantly improving the comfort levels for visitors.

New areas of the site have been opened up to visitors, revealing more of the building’s history. In some instances, repairs made whilst opening up utilised traditional methods, resulting in an almost undiscernible change between new fabric and old. In other cases, such as the rediscovered King James Seal, the uncovered fabric has been left ‘as found’ to present the history of continual change over many generations.

We worked closely with the client and consultant team to ensure that these alterations met modern requirements in terms of fire compartmentation and structural integrity while also maintaining the site’s medieval character. The project has repaired the fabric of the buildings while the improvements to the visitor experience will help raise funds for future maintenance works.

It has been immensely rewarding to help secure the future of such a prestigious set of buildings, but the real privilege of the project has been to work with the community who live and work there. The Master and Brethren at The Lord Leycester Hospital represent a living tradition, representing the heart and soul of the site and an enduring reminder of the history and founding principles of the institution.
Matthew Vaughan, practice director, Donald Insall Associates


Client’s view

In the summer of 2023, the capital works project to restore, repair and improve The Lord Leycester for Heritage visitors began, funded in part by National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The complex of medieval buildings around a courtyard in the centre of Warwick built by the guilds in the late 1300s are not just aesthetically beautiful with their honey-coloured half-timbered halls but also stand as an icon of philanthropic values and civic society that has prevailed in this island nation through the centuries.

According to our award-winning conservation plan, completed by Donald Insall Associates in 2021, the buildings of the Lord Leycester sit at the top of a list of the most important medieval buildings internationally. That coupled with the legacy of continuous living guilds through the community of Master and Brethren makes them especially important. From an architectural historian’s perspective, the buildings of the Lord Leycester are precious and most certainly worthy of care and attention to preserve and protect.

The capital works project of 2023 was in part to repair but also to create a space that would encourage and fascinate visitors so that annual footfall revenue could improve and contribute to an ongoing annual maintenance program. The capital works and new exhibitions were installed ready for a late August 2023 opening. The initial footfall figures are encouraging and all the comments from visitors very favourable.

At the Lord Leycester, we wait to see what a full year of being open will yield in terms of revenue from heritage visitors, knowing that our future and the health of our amazing medieval building will depend on that revenue.
Heidi Meyer, master, The Lord Leycester Hospital


Source:Donald Insall Associates

Project data

Start on site July 2022
Completion date December 2023
Gross internal floor area 1,170m2
Gross (internal + external) floor area 1,460m2
Previous internal area useable by the public 514m2
New internal area useable by the public 631m2 (increase of 117sqm or 23%)
Form of contract or procurement route JCT Standard Building Contract with Quantities 2016
Construction cost £1.68 million
Construction cost per m2 £1,436
Architect Donald Insall Associates
Client The Lord Leycester Hospital
Structural engineer Mann Williams
M&E consultant Bob Costello Associates
Quantity surveyor PMP Consultants
Fire consultant OFR
Interpretation The Creative Core
Principal designer Donald Insall Associates
Approved building inspector Warwick Building Control
Main contractor Messenger BCR
CAD software used Autodesk – AutoCAD


Source:Donald Insall Associates